Monday, 20 January 2014

Dragon, Aim, Fire! meets 13th Age

13th Age has been out for a little while now, and I'm finally going to talk about it.

Ready? You sure?


That's not hyperbole, that's fact. 

So what IS 13th Age?

13th Age is a roleplaying game in the same vein as Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. It runs on the d20 engine that fuels both those games, and the game is a definite love-letter to the genre in general, and D&D in particular. It was designed by Rob Heinsoo and Johnathan Tweet. Tweet is one of the original designers of D&D 3rd Edition, and Heinsoo is one of the designers behind D&D 4th edition, so this game has good genetics. It borrows a bit from each edition that preceded it, but make no mistake, it is its own animal.

Play is distributed across 10 levels. I know that sounds short, but it really is not. Since you level up after approximately 12-15 combat encounters, each level is very broad and allows for a lot of play-per-level before you move on. A level 10 character in 13th Age rivals a level 30 character in D&D 4e. 

Something innovative that fuels this game that I have also included into my current Pathfinder game is The Escalation Die. As combat progresses, the Game Master puts a six-sided dice (referred to as a "d6" for those of you who are new to gaming terminology) on the table, with the "1" facing up. This means every character in combat gets +1 to their attack rolls. The next round, it moves to the "2", and the players get the applicable +2 bonus. This continues up to a maximum of +6. It keeps combat clicking along at a quick pace, and the PCs are generally more focused on the game, even when it is not their turn.

However, the big money for the Game Master who wants to run a story-oriented game (read: guys and gals like me) is the One Unique Thing. The player tells you a really cool unique "something special" about their character that sets that character apart from everyone else in the world. This can set up all sorts of crazy adventure hooks and establishes, basically in a single sentence, who this character is and why they do what they do. They can be anything as simple as "I'm the only person to ever leave the cult of Tharizdun" to "I was born of alchemy, rather than natural birth".

Another feature that really attracted my attention was the fact that the default setting of 13th Age is populated by Icons. Icons are demigodlike movers-and-shakers in the campaign setting. Every player character has some sort of relation to at least of few of these characters. It can be really cool to have a positive relationship with the Great Gold Wyrm, but at the same time it puts you at odds with the demon-lord-like Diabolist.

13th Age does not require a big game mat on the table if you don't want it. It's not measured in squares or feet. Combat is measured via engaged, nearby, or far away. This is nice if you want to play but don't have a lot of money to shell out on things like minis and combat grids.

The thing that I feel was really a welcome change from 4e D&D is the fact that every class "feels" different. Don't get me wrong: I like 4e D&D, and it's a great game. I've liked it ever since I was a Writing Director for the Living Forgotten Realms RPGA campaign. My only quibble with 4e really is that all the classes feel vaguely the same. In 4th Edition D&D, a rogue is just a wizard with knives, really. The powers are all flavored this way and that with flavor text, but at the end of the day, they all run off the same mechanic. Not so in 13th Age. A rogue's powers run on a "momentum" mechanic, meaning the rogue does better as long as they keep moving and don't get hit. This is vastly different from the wizard class, which has a neat feature called "Vance's Polysyllabic Verbalizations". Wizards can get extra effects from their spells by changing their spell names to something alliterative and fun. To me, that's pretty cool. 

I recently managed to get in touch with Rob Heinsoo and got a chance to ask him five questions about 13th Age:

13th Age interview for "Dragon, Aim, Fire!" 

1) 13th Age Bestiary is coming up soon. What's your favourite monster in the upcoming book?

Rob: The monster that I’ve used most often and loved every time is the ogre mage knight. The monster I loved using most in a playtest against Jonathan was the redcap. The look on Jonathan’s face the second time he said the bad word, and knew it instantly: priceless. 

I’m going to take a stab at answering this question for Jonathan. He’s going to really like the lammasu, because he loves strictly legalistic monsters that manage to screw the PCs while precisely adhering to the boundaries of contracts the PCs should have paid more attention to. 

2) What do you see as the greatest strength of the 13th Age roleplaying game?

Rob: For me, the best feature is the one unique thing. The 13 icons help establish the world as the default fantasy roleplaying world, populated by familiar archetypes. The one unique thing is each player’s license to turn the story in a direction that excites them, to bring something to the game that they’re going to want to invest in. The one unique thing works for experienced gamers and it works for gaming newcomers. In fact, I’ll use something like the one unique thing whenever I run a game for beginning roleplayers, even if it’s not 13th Age. 

3) After "13 True Ways" and the aforementioned Bestiary, what's next for 13th Age? 

Rob: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is designing Eyes of the Stone Thief, an epic campaign where the characters chase and are chased by a living dungeon that periodically rises to the surface and swallows wizards' towers, villages and even whole cities. Cal Moore has a first level adventure set in a city near Horizon, populated by dueling wizard schools and shadowy intrigue. And we’ve also got a first level adventure from Robin Laws in the queue. 

4) If there were a 13th Age movie, which Icons would you really want to see, and who would play them?

Rob: You could probably tell a compelling story using the triangle of the Archmage, Lich King, and Priestess. Then throw in the Three as a three-part wild card, red devastator, black saboteur, blue sorceress. But I’m way too cinematically illiterate to cast this film. Yeah, I’m bowing out of this question. Because I’m always the person who has to say “Who?” when people tell me about an actor or actress, and then it turns out that I’ve never seen any of their movies. So it ain’t me you’re lookin’ for. 

5) What other games influence your own game writing? 

Rob: A full answer would be a dozen pages. So I’ll give a sketchy start-of-an-answer. 

Both Jonathan and I were influenced by Dave Hargrave’s Arduin trilogy when we were younger. Arduin wasn’t exactly playable but it was filled with over-the-top ideas and a sense that D&D could harness wild energies. 

Similarly, both Jonathan and I loved RuneQuest and the world of Glorantha created by Greg Stafford. The 13th Age icons are direct descendants of the Gloranthan cults. 

Keeping to early influences, I also learned a lot from Robin D. Law’s Feng Shui. Its cinematic flair and willingness to harness drama in the engine of a traditional rpg stuck with me. 

And to name one more game, it’s no accident that I got into the gaming industry after Richard Garfield invented Magic: the Gathering. The games that followed Richard’s invention flourish thanks to exceptions-based skills honed in a gaming world influenced by Magic

In short, 13th Age rocks, and I'm looking forward to getting my game on. I would like to thank Rob Heinsoo for taking the time to get back to me, and to the folks at Fire Opal Media and Pelgrane Press for being so open and friendly to this little blog. 

If you want more information on 13th Age, check out the official homepage here.

For other Pelgrane Press games, go here.

For more about Fire Opal Media, check it out here.

For constant updates about 13th Age, check them out on Twitter: @13thAge

Check out these great links for more about 13th Age:

Have you played 13th Age? Share your comments or questions below! In addition, if you have a game you want reviewed, let me know.

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